Maude's cassoulet good for the soul

February 25, 2012 8:28:05 PM PST
In the depths of winter, few dishes feed the body and nourish the soul as completely as cassoulet. The iconic French dish has been a star on the menu at Maude's Liquor Bar in West Town since it opened just over a year ago.

"Cassoulet is a stew. It's a casserole. The kind of thing that you would cook on a Sunday afternoon with your family or friends," said Jeff Pikus, the Chef at Maude's.

Pikus begins with the unglamorous job of making beans, specifically, white navy beans, which are soaked overnight, then cooked with rendered bacon, fresh thyme, carrots, celery and onions. Chicken stock is added and the beans are cooked slowly, then held for later.

Meantime, garlic sausage links are made by hand, which will also be used a bit later.

When an order comes in, Pikus begins by simmering some braised pork belly in a bit of rendered duck fat. The garlic sausage is added, as are the cooked navy beans and carrots. Then duck confit - which means it has been cooked and preserved in its own fat - is shredded by hand; the rich meat is added to the simmering pot.

White wine is added to give it some body, then butter for richness and homemade chicken stock, to bring everything together. Breadcrumbs from a French baguette are coarsely ground-up over the top, then the cassoulet is placed beneath a salamander, or broiler, to torch the top layer. When it's done, he sprinkles over some fresh parsley, and it's ready to eat.

"It's food that's good for the soul. You eat it and at the end of it, you're full, you're satisfied, you're warm, you're comforted and that's really what we're striving for," said Pikus.

Now true, it hasn't been the coldest winter on record in Chicago. But if you're looking for something hearty and simple and inspired by the French countryside to warm you up a little bit this season, cassoulet is the dish to try.

Maude's Liquor Bar
840 W. Randolph St.
(312) 243-9712